It’s certainly been a week for unlikely bedfellows getting pally. Trump manhandled Macron; the two Koreans hugged; and then, most unexpectedly of all, Old Trafford embraced Arsene Wenger. Where once would rage ‘shooting by other means’ now reigned sentimental applause.
Of course, it was easy for Reds to behave so in yesterday’s circumstances. The harmless, toothless old lion was taking one last laboured traipse around the circus ring he once held spellbound, accompanied by two of his masters.
During the dull empty stretches of what was a lacklustre and largely meaningless game, it was hard not to drift back to the good old days, when a sighting of Wenger coming into Warwick Road’s range used to be the cue for frenzied forecourt excitement and not a little snarling loathing. Ah, those sweet hatreds of the turf; where would professional football be without you?
A lot of Reds really did genuinely detest his supposed professorial superiority and his arrogant ‘foreign fancydan’ teams. They would cheer Fergie on in the media, as the Scotsman unveiled a range of what we have all come to know as ‘mind games’. To be frank, on the quiet, many of us thought Fergie rarely got the better of his oppo on that score, not least because Wenger was always the far more intelligent and cultured man.
But on the pitch, where it mattered, via a dramatic series of often quite brilliant and blood-pumping matches, United did eventually reduce the Alsatian’s bite to a bark and then a whimper. Post-2004, when Fergie started saying nice things about Arsène in public, we sniggered; it was a sure sign Wenger was no longer seen as a threatening younger lion. That role of pretender to the tree perch had now been usurped by José Mourinho.
It was to Mourinho the task fell yesterday to lead the farewell to his own one-time rival. Fittingly, he’s been on a similar journey to Fergie’s with Wenger; outright unpleasantness and bile in the mid-Noughties had gradually been replaced by studied indifference and then even signs of warmth as Wenger waned.
There’s no getting away from the fact that some of the things José said and did about Wenger back in the day were a disgrace, and that he tended to behave the worse of the two. Drifting back yesterday, it was startling to remember the dirty details, and recall just what a nasty little git we had always reckoned José to be in those days. And now he’s our leader. ‘Oy!’ as my Gooner colleague Bernard might say.
I doubt there’s anyone in the country who thinks José’s the better man than Wenger.
But football doesn’t dish out its points and trophies for niceness. Nice guys do, indeed, tend to finish last; the b*stard always goes home with the girl.
Although...he did almost get the girl one night. We found out years later that Wenger was considered as a possible successor when Fergie first tried to retire. It’s probably best for all concerned that destiny declined that left turn.
Wenger’s lack of driving ruthlessness would surely have long since done for him at Old Trafford.
Post-Busby - that great and saintly rule-proving exception - the sheer scale and diversity of Manchester United have almost always required b*stards to control it successfully. Ask rueful nice guys Moyes, O’Farrell, Wilf, Moyes and Sexton.
So adieu it is, to a genuine great who provided us with some scintillating opposition and the worthiest of all our challenges, and to a nice man whom we yet so often contrived to hate.
And naturally, there could only have been one fitting result last night. As the clock struck FergieTime, the geeky nice guy finished last, and the good-looking b*stard went home with the points.
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